Film / The Pentagon Wars

Sgt. Fanning: ...A troop transport that can't carry troops, a reconnaissance vehicle that's too conspicuous to do reconnaissance...
Colonel James Burton: ...and a quasi-tank that has less armor than a snowblower, but has enough ammo to take out half of D.C.
—A summary of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle

The Bradley Fighting Vehicle, as designed, was a deathtrap. If it were to be sent into combat without significant modifications, it could kill hundreds of our own soldiers. So what do you do when the top brass orders you to make it pass the tests, so that it can be deployed in the field on schedule and make them look good? Do you make a somber, tragic movie showing the depths to which humanity can sink? Do you do a scathing news exposé of the affair and demand accountability?

No, you make a made-for-TV Black Comedy starring Kelsey Grammer as a Maj. General Partridge who wants the Bradley in production no matter how much of a liability it is to its own crew, and Cary Elwes as Lt. Colonel Burton, who will do everything he can to prevent that from happening.

Hey, it makes as much sense as everything else that had anything to do with that Alleged Fighting Vehicle.

This 1998 made-for-TV movie provides examples of:

  • Analogy Backfire: General Partridge makes this mistake in front of a Congressional Committee when discussing the accuracy of the Paveway bomb, which missed 50% of the time.
    General Partridge: In baseball a guy who hits .400 is considered pretty damn great.
    Congressman: In baseball the losing team isn't killed by their opponents.
  • Armed Farces: A slightly more serious example, but the movie is very openly satirical.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: "Perhaps you'd like to tell us how much has been spent so far to develop the Bradley?"
  • Beleaguered Bureaucrat: Col. Smith, every time the Generals above him demand a change to the Bradley's design.
  • Bittersweet Ending: While Burton does manage to expose the Bradley's flaws and force the army to design a much safer version, it's still not enough to change the system that created it in the first place. General Partridge still gets his promotion and his private sector job opportunities, while Burton is forced to retire.
  • Bothering by the Book: "We can't touch him, sir, it's by the book."
  • Brick Joke: "Paper cuts, Fanning. Vicious paper cuts."
  • Corrupt Bureaucrat: The majority of the officers involved in weapons testing are portrayed as careerists perpetuating an absurd system to ensure their promotion to General and guarantee lucrative jobs in the defense industry once they retire. Even General Smith, who was initially portrayed with some sympathy as the Bradley's original designer, ultimately played the game and refuses to help Burton more directly because he has too much to lose.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Secretary Weinberger gets a few, "According to this, one missile locked on to a ventilation fan in the latrine, and destroyed the latrine. Were we test-firing at latrines that day?"
  • Development Hell: The Bradley has been in development for 17 years as the movie opens. Sadly, Truth in Television: Most military projects of this sort takes decades. The problem is that the combination of having the companies designing component features locked in from the start (despite the fact that technology changes extremely rapidly compared to the production period) and the evolving realistic needs of the military, and the demands of the brass, result in a remarkably broken system for development. As this film demonstrates. invoked
    • Secretary of Defense Weinberger also chews out a group of Generals for a number of other programs that were in development at the time, including the M247 Sergeant York (cancelled due to cost overruns), the A-12 Avenger II (also cancelled due to cost overruns), and the UH-60 Black Hawk (one of the few exceptions, but it was still in development at the time).
  • Executive Meddling: In-universe. The top brass change their minds several times about what kind of performance/armament they want the Bradley to have, often in mid-design. Causing major delays and budget overruns. Even worse, they tend to criticize the very features they requested previously, i.e. demanding a larger gun, and then complaining that it gives the vehicle a tank-like silhouette and will encourage the enemy to target it first.
    Designer: " Do you want me to put a sign on it in fifty languages, "I am a troop carrier, not a tank, please don't shoot at me"?"
  • False Reassurance: As spoken by Kelsey Grammer in perhaps the snarkiest moment in the movie.
    "General, were you for or against the Major's testing regimen?"
    "Absolutely not."
    "Absolutely not, yes? Or absolutely not, no?"
    "Absolutely not, absolutely."
  • The Film of the Book: Of The Pentagon Wars by USAF Colonel James G. Burton.
  • Hauled Before A Senate Subcommittee: Partridge
  • He Who Fights Monsters: The enlisted men display a great degree of cynicism towards Burton because a neverending cycle of officers just like him have come through and ultimately decide to play the game because they want their promotion.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: Partridge is Army, Burton is Air Force, and only "work" together because the Pentagon has decided to make weapons testing a joint operation.
  • Logical Fallacies: Partridge employs a number of techniques to misdirect people when he is forced to answer uncomfortable questions.
    • Appeal to Consequences: "We must not, will not, allow [enemies of the United States] to prevail for if we do, you can be certain that you and I and everyone else will never again enjoy the luxury of meeting in this building to debate anything!"
    • Circular Reasoning: "If the fuel tanks were filled with fuel, there's a good chance the vehicle would have exploded."note 
    • Insane Troll Logic: Starting with his opening monologue and continuing throughout the movie, Partridge frequently employs non-sequiturs to deflect attention from the issues being raised.
  • Moving the Goalposts: The various ways the Bradley “passes” its readiness tests.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Burton. It backfires somewhat, as it places him under the command of someone else other than the general that Partridge had been counting on to be unavailable to authorize Burton's testifying at the committee hearing.
  • Soldiers at the Rear: Burton uses the story of the M-16 to accuse the enlisted men working on the Bradley of not caring because they never knew anyone who died because of defective equipment. This is deliberate however; as enlisted men, a lot of them probably did have close friends who died in combat because of defective equipment and Burton knows this.
  • Tank Goodness: Averted to high heaven with the Bradley.
  • Truth in Television: The kind of problems satirized here happen in any large bureaucracy. Nobody wants to tell the truth because it would make them look inefficient by comparison and essentially end their careers.
  • Undisclosed Funds: Averted - $14 Billion, with a "B".